Bill Owen kicked off the discussion by introducing his partner, Kent Henry. Bill proudly announced their upcoming marriage at the SWA Bryant Park Porch in NYC. He’s a proud father and grandfather with no shortage of funny stories (both personal and professional) to which many in the room could relate! With more than 22 years of Southwest Airlines experience, Bill has navigated his way to his role as a Senior Business Consultant in Network Planning. Bill talked about his experiences and the challenges he faced before coming out to friends, family, and Coworkers.
One thing that really resonated with the audience was Bill’s confidence in who he is and the acceptance he’s felt while working at Southwest Airlines. Coming out can be a scary thing whether in one’s personal life or in a workplace setting and Bill’s testaments were those of LUV and support. Bill concluded with a powerful story about witnessing LGBT bullying of other students in high school and keeping quiet in fear of the bullies targeting him. After that, Bill vowed to never be a silent witness going forward and to stand up for equality and respect. That’s one of many reasons he and Kent are passionate supporters of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation).
Teresa Laraba began her talk with an inspirational quote, “Unconditional love is not situational or negotiable. It is unconditional.” As Senior Vice President of Customers with more than 29 years of Southwest Airlines experience, Teresa expressed her gratitude to the exposure of the LGBT community throughout her career with SWA. She’s a proud mother of two daughters and recently welcomed a new addition to her family when her daughter, Cat, married her partner.
Teresa spoke about her experience with being the mother of a gay daughter and shared stories of her daughters growing up and the significant differences within her girls at an early age. When Cat came out to her in high school, her immediate reaction wasn’t of shock or disappointment, but that of overwhelming love and support. Teresa explained that her main concern was how other people would treat her daughter. Soon after Cat came out, she heard stories of bullying even altercations from the parents of Cat’s friends. Cat, who was also present at the meeting, shared her personal and professional experiences. She shared that when she came out, she felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders and expressed her gratitude of her family’s strong support during that time.
As we concluded the conversation with Q&A, several Employees shared their coming out stories and experiences within their respective work groups. As a member of the Southwest Airlines Diversity Council, I can say that we look forward to our next quarterly Coffee and Conversation which will be held in recognition of Disability Awareness Month.